From the Desk of Ed Hume: Soil Preparation

February 17, 2010 at 2:49 AM Leave a comment

As soon as your soil is “workable,” it’s time to begin getting the garden ready for planting your vegetables and flowers.  What do I mean by the term “workable?”  By my definition, it’s the time you can pick up a fist full of soil, squeeze it in you hand, and no water oozes out of the soil into your hand.  At that point, you’re ready to start getting the soil ready for planting.

Actually, that’s not quite true!  The real time to begin preparing the soil is in the Fall.  One of the best things you can do is plant a Fall cover crop (that’s a crop that grows over the Winter).  Then in the Spring you turn it over as you prepare the soil for planting.  What’s go great about a cover crop?  It produces nitrogen nodules on the roots, so your are basically growing your own fertilizer.  Also, the green foliage above ground is what one calls “green manure,” so you are improving the soil organically and naturally in two ways.  The crop will naturally do this during the Fall and Winter at a time when the garden is usually somewhat dormant.  Four really good cover crops ideas are Crimson Clover, Austrian Peas, Winter Rye, and Hairy Vetch.  Plant one, two, or all of them together.  For more detail on planting your cover crop, you can check out this article and this video.

If you plan to add fresh manure to the garden, it should also be added in the Fall or early Winter so it has a chance to break down before the Spring planting season (however, well-rotted or compost manure can be added in Spring).  As soon as the soil is workable come late Winter or early Spring, add any other organic materials like compost, well rotted, or processed manure.  Spade or till these organic materials into your soil, level the area, make raised beds, and you’re ready to begin sowing your seeds and planting out your seedlings.

When one crop has reached maturity, harvest and re-prepare the soil and plant another crop.  When harvesting leaf crops like lettuce and spinach, you can cut the plants a couple of inches from the ground, fertilize the soil again, and another crop will develop from the original plants.

Perennial vegetables like rhubarb and artichokes should be planted at the outer side of the garden so they are not in the way when you are planting the rest of your crops.  Also, I’ll talk about this in more detail in an article the first week in March, but since some of you will be sowing the seeds of peas very soon, keep in mind that tall growing crops are always planted up at the north side of the garden so they don’t shade the rest of your crops.

Remember, real success in vegetable or flower gardening depends upon having good soil.  In fact, I like to say good gardening depends upon three things: Soil, soil, soil!

-Ed

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Ed’s Podcasts: Garden Peas Clip of the Week: Slug Control

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